Billy Graham and the power of belief


It’s something in short supply these days.

I’m not talking about casual, commonplace, ersatz belief – like the belief that your pizza will arrive in 30 minutes or it’s free. Or that your favourite toothpaste will give your mouth a minty-fresh glow. Or the self-belief that motivational speakers spruik, quick fixes that last mere days because their foundations are weak and spurious.

There is no danger – or risk – in holding such beliefs.

No, I’m talking about the type of belief that our ancestors once had. The wild, fundamental belief that something is an absolute certainty despite a complete lack of proof. The belief that hundreds of years of science and technology has virtually wiped out in the modern world.

The belief that if you don’t pray to the gods, make the right sacrifice or live by the right moral code that you and your family will starve, that a rival tribe will destroy you or that your very existence will be shattered into a million pieces.

I’m talking about adamantine, rock-solid, bullet-proof belief.

As an entertainment journalist I’ve met a few A-list Hollywood stars who possessed such a bullet-proof belief. Such belief was mesmerising to observe close-up. Considering that Hollywood is one of the most competitive industries in the world, a powerful belief in one’s own star power is almost a pre-requisite.

But such belief isn’t something you see too often outside of Hollywood.

I realise now I first saw it in Billy Graham.

I was only eight when the late US evangelist visited Australia, preaching to thousands of the faithful at Randwick Racecourse.

As a mere youth I don’t remember much about that day. Certainly I stared up into the faces of all the adults and wondered why they were so mesmerised by Graham and his words. No … what I remember most is what happened when handfuls of people left the event prematurely, heading out across the track and into the distance.

Graham noticed.

I don’t remember what he said to them over the microphone, except that they should come back. And no, they didn’t suddenly turn around and return.

I found it funny at the time.

Now, as an adult, I have a different take.

No … what I now remember is the absolute certainty of Graham’s faith.

I believe he sincerely believed that the immortal souls of those stragglers were at risk if they didn’t return and embrace the Lord. He truly believed in the power and the words of his gospel. He truly believed he could make some type of difference in the world.

I’m not a religious person. The only time I attend church is Easter and Christmas, like the rest of lapsed Christendom.

As a cynical adult living in a world of technological marvels and scientific explanations, I don’t share in the belief of his gospel.

I studied postmodernism at university, which taught the belief that there is no such thing as absolute truth, religious or otherwise.

The only truth my First World generation believes in is that there are no real truths. We don’t believe in governments or corporations or even free will separated from the shackles of biological instinct. Our God is technology.

We barely believe in ourselves.

Perhaps that’s why as an adult I admire the adamantine faith of Graham because I know it’s something I could never have.

Perhaps I am like Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard, who wisftully longs to be a 19th-century man seething with anger, full of the type of questions the modern world has already solved.

In the First World, we may never see the likes of Graham’s adamantine belief again.

All we can do is mourn its passing, as if it were an endangered tiger.

Which, in a way, it is.

My new thriller Game Of Killers: The Spartan is out now as an ebook and paperback.

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